Statement on the Federal Death Penalty

Capital punishment has been a widely debated topic in the United States for many years. In 1972, following the Furman v. Georgia Supreme Court decision, the death penalty was deemed unconstitutional and outlawed at the state and federal levels.  However, it was reinstated by most states and the federal government by 1988 and expanded by Congress in 1994. More recently, the Department of Justice announced that the federal government will resume executing death row inmates after nearly two decades without any federal executions. Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of five inmates. The executions have been scheduled for December 2019 and January 2020.

Despite the government’s constantly changing position on the death penalty, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been strong and consistent in its call for a moratorium on capital punishment. We believe that the death penalty challenges the redemptive power of the cross.  God’s grace is sufficient for all humans regardless of their sin. As Christians, we must “seek the redemption of evildoers and not their death.”

For the past 60 years, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been advocating for an end to the death penalty.

  • The 171st General Assembly, in 1959, asserted, “capital punishment cannot be condoned by an interpretation of the Bible based upon the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ,” and noted that “the use of the death penalty tends to brutalize the society that condones it.”
  • The 189th General Assembly, in 1977, called upon Presbyterians to work to prevent the execution of persons now under sentence of death and speak out against attempts to reinstate the death penalty in state and federal law.
  • The 190th General Assembly, in 1978, stated strongly that “Capital punishment is an expression of vengeance which contradicts the justice of God on the cross.”
  • The 197th General Assembly, in 1985, reaffirmed past positions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and declared “its continuing opposition to capital punishment.”
  • In 2010 the church called for “an immediate moratorium on all executions in all jurisdictions that impose capital punishment.”
  • The most recent call for a moratorium was issued in 2018 by the 223rd General Assembly.

Our stance is clear, and we are saddened by Attorney General William Barr’s decision to resume use of the federal death penalty. The death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. It has been proven to be racially biased. In fact, over the past 30 years research has shown that race is a significant factor in death penalty cases. Additionally, capital punishment does not contribute to lower homicide rates.

We urge Presbyterians to act now and continue to raise strong objections to capital punishment.

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